Friday, May 8, 2015

Best Ever Carrot Cake and my little sister's wedding

So, my little sister got married last weekend and guess who was in charge of making the wedding cake?  Yep - yours truly!  She requested a carrot cake and really, I would just go with my very favorite, and seriously amazing, carrot cake recipe, but there's just one tiny problem.  It has pecans on top, and they really just seem to make the cake. It's just not the same without the nuts!  I didn't think my sister would really be happy with the idea of having chopped nuts all over her wedding cake, so I had to come up with something different.  Instead of putting the nuts on top, I included them in a coconut cream cheese filling.  I also gave the cake a bit of a coconut boost by substituting coconut oil for the vegetable oil in the original recipe. This lessens the carrot flavor a little bit, but makes a nice blend of the carrot and coconut instead.

I absolutely love the cake with this filling!  I've been in love with my carrot cake recipe for a long time and wasn't looking to improve it, but I think that I'm going to have to start making it with this filling from now on!

This recipe makes about 6 cups of batter.  I used it for a 6-inch 3-layer cake.  You can also make a 9-inch 2-layer cake.

Best Ever Carrot Cake

For a more intense coconut flavor, try using coconut oil and coconut extract.
  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 1/4 c cooking oil/coconut oil
  • 4 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1/2 tsp coconut extract (optional)
  • 3 c finely shredded carrots
  • 1/2 c shredded coconut
  • Cream Cheese Filling (see below)
  • Cream Cheese Frosting (see below)

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease three 6-inch cake pans and line the bottom with waxed/parchment paper.  Grease the paper as well.

Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in medium bowl to blend.  (*Note: if using coconut oil, gently heat until almost melted, stir, and let cool a little bit.  You don't want it so hot that it melts all of the sugar.)  In a separate bowl, mix oil and sugar until well blended.  Add the eggs one at a time and mix until well combined.  Add the coconut extract now if you're using it.  Mix in the dry ingredients.  Stir in carrots and coconut.

Divide batter between pans - about 2 cups in each.  Bake layers for 45 minutes each, or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes.  Turn out onto racks, peel off paper and cool cakes completely.

Frost cake using the Cream Cheese Filling between each layer, and Cream Cheese Frosting on top/around the sides. (*I didn't quite use all of the filling on the cake.  If you have leftovers too, use it up in between graham crackers, or maybe just with a spoon!)  Be sure to do a thin crumb coat of frost on the outside and let it set before frosting the cake completely.  That way you won't end up with cake crumbs throughout your frosting!

Coconut Cream Cheese Filling
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 c butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 c powdered sugar
  • 2/3 c chopped pecans
  • 1 c shredded coconut
Cream together the cream cheese and butter.  Mix in the vanilla and powdered sugar until well combined.

Cream Cheese Frosting 
  • 6 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 6 Tbsp salted butter (room temperature)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
Blend cream cheese and butter together until well combined.  Add vanilla.  Mix in powdered sugar until everything is incorporated.  (If you find that it's too thick, add about 1 tsp milk at a time until you get it where you want it.)

(Photo credit for the wedding cake goes to Amelinda Olson.  Thanks!)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

6 Ideas for Redecorating on a Budget - Guest Post

The folks over at recently contacted me about a guest post.  This is such a great topic too.  I think so many of us are looking for ways to give our homes a face-lift without breaking the bank.  Check out some of Jane Blanchard's ideas for redecorating on a budget. 

6 Ideas for Redecorating on a Budget
By Jane Blanchard

Every now and then most homeowners become aware that their surroundings need a lift, but many will hesitate to even think about a makeover because of the money such a project would entail. The truth is, redecorating does not have to be impossibly expensive. Here are 6 ideas you can use to redecorate without dislocating your finances.

1. Purge your place of clutter. Believe it or not, decluttering is sometimes the only way a new look can be born, and for some people, it is the most problematic part of redecorating. Take a look at the stuff in your house and honestly assess what no longer contributes to making your habitat look attractive. Find the courage to give away the things that constitute clutter. If you can do this, a substantial part of your redecorating project is as good as done!

2. Give the walls a coat of paint in a new color. A new coat of paint will make your house look incredibly new, and you can up the ante by splashing on a different color. If you would rather not make radical changes in your color scheme, you can try introducing a somewhat related shade from the same color family. For example, it is possible to go from light gray to a lighter or a darker gray, or you can level up from cream to light canary yellow. This way most of your old stuff will fit right in.

3. Liven up your walls with frames. Ordinary frames can do a lot to liven up your walls in a totally extraordinary way. For example, imagine a group of pictures in black frames arranged as a group against a taupe wall. Or, a large print of Van Gogh’s sunflowers at the center of a pale yellow wall would really give a room lots of personality. You don’t need to purchase expensive frames to create drama on your walls.

4. Refinish your old furniture. A coat of varnish on wooden furniture and new slipcovers will make a big difference in whether your home looks well-kept or shabby. If you are willing to take on the challenge of reupholstering chairs, there are plenty of videos and online articles to help you learn the process.

Refinishing old furniture means investing in a lot of elbow grease, but it will be worth it. Start by refinishing and reupholstering simpler pieces such as chairs. You will be surprised at the way your refashioned chairs can make a room refreshingly different.

5. Refresh your living room with throw pillows. Throw pillows are a truly effective and unbelievable cheap way to add pizazz to your renovation. You can have loads of fun gathering throw pillows of the right color, print, size, and shape to create the look you want. For example, symmetrical, solid color pillows evenly distributed on a couch will give your seating area a formal ambiance, while brightly printed ones in bright colors will create a relaxed setting.

6. Explore new window treatments. There is just no way you can give your house a new look if your curtains are threadbare. Unless you pick high end drapes, new curtains need not be prohibitively expensive. There are numerous ways to come up with creative window treatments.

For instance, you might want to experiment with no-sew Roman shades. Not only are these are extremely easy to do, they cost very little.

It is important to have a plan when you start your redecorating. Go through the rooms you want to redecorate and imagine how you want them to look when you are done. Browse through popular decorating magazines and brochures to get a clearer vision of how you can get more dash for less cash.

For more design ideas and inspiration, head to

Thanks Jane!  These are some great ideas!  Sometimes it's those simple things that we forget all about and they're really the most important.  (Like picking up clutter... :) )  

What are some ways you like to redecorate your home on a budget?  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Guest Room Sneak Peek

I've been working on a guest bedroom recently and I'm really excited at how it's coming along. I thought I'd give you a little sneak peek.  Now you can be as excited as I am!

Stay tuned for the final reveal, as well as details on how I set up the room for guests!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Salted Dark Chocolate No Bake Cookies

I recently found myself in a bit of a pinch. It was T minus 30 minutes and I was trying to get everyone ready to go to a friends' house for dinner, when I remembered that I was supposed to be bringing a dessert.  I had set some butter out earlier to try a new recipe, but when two little boys both decide that they're not going to nap, things get a little hairy.

It briefly crossed my mind to stop by the store on the way and pick up a bag of my husband's favorite chocolate sandwich cookies. Then I remembered these little gems from the 2013 edition of 12 days of cookies. My no-fail no-bake cookies!  I had just enough time to whip up a batch of them and get them plated, throw some diapers in the diaper bag, and run out the door.

I decided to do a little upgrade on these cookies - the classic no-bake revisited.  Don't get me wrong-they're great as they are, but I wanted to take them from great to gourmet, and the result was amazing!!  A little less sweet, extra dark, with just the right hint of salt.  *Note: if you're trying to avoid peanuts, these are great with your favorite nut or seed butter - just substitute straight across.

Salted Dark Chocolate No Bake Cookies
Mix butter, sugar, milk, and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.  Boil for 1 minute.

Remove from heat, add peanut butter, and stir until melted.  Mix in vanilla and oats.

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto waxed paper. Sprinkle with kosher salt and cool until set.  Work quickly, because the salt doesn't stick as well once the cookies have cooled.  Gently press the salt into the cookies if necessary. 

Makes 5-6 dozen

This post may contain affiliate links.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Colcannon Cakes, or Leftover Mashed Potato Pancakes

So, St. Patrick's Day is over and you made too much of the colcannon. What are you going to do? Of course, you could just reheat it and eat a meal of leftovers, but what if you've done that already and you still have more? (You seriously made tons! It’s ok…I’ve been there too.) Try these "Colcannon Cakes" instead.

Over dinner my husband and I tried to come up with some fancy name, comparing this "mash-up" of Irish colcannon and Jewish latkes ("colcatcas," latkannon..."). And while the fancy names didn't really work, the food definitely did!

Crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. This is a great way to use up leftover colcannon (or regular mashed potatoes, for that matter).

Colcannon Cakes with Lemon Cream
  • 3 cups chilled colcannon
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup flour (*see notes)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • Coconut oil, for frying
  • fresh or dried Thyme
Lemon Cream
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon

* Note: the consistency of the colcannon varies, depending on how much water you drained out and how much butter you added. If it looks too dry after combining the ingredients, add another egg.  If it's too wet, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the colcannon, cheese, egg, flour, salt and pepper.

Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add about 1 Tbsp coconut oil.

Drop large spoonfuls of the mixture onto the pan and spread them out slightly.  Cook until they’re golden brown and crispy on both sides.  Add more oil to the pan as needed between batches.  Note: Don’t overcrowd the pan and don’t flip the pancakes too soon or they won’t develop that nice, crisp crust. 

Serve warm with Lemon Cream.  Sprinkle with fresh or dried thyme leaves. 

Lemon Cream

Mix together the Greek yogurt and lemon juice.  Add more of either one to taste.  
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